Adult butterflies have an entirely liquid diet, which they find with their feet. The sensitive taste receptacles on a butterfly’s legs and feet help them search out necessary nutrients and avoid potential hazards.
When a butterfly lands on you, it’s probably wondering if you’re food. We all know butterflies eat from flowers, but do butterflies eat grass?
I’ll explain the lifecycle and diet of butterflies, so you know exactly what they eat.
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Does Butterflies Eat Grass
Butterflies use their proboscis to slurp up nectar, but they can’t eat grass because they lack the proper mouth apparatus to chew anything solid. However, as caterpillars, which are larval or baby butterflies, they eat a wide variety of leafy greens, including wild grasses. Ornamental grasses, in particular, often attract butterflies who lay eggs and hatch into grass-eating caterpillars.
Do Butterflies Like Grass
Not only do butterflies like grass, but many species also rely on it for shelter. Although there are over twenty thousand species of butterflies on earth and over five hundred in the continental US, many use grass.
By staying on the edges of fields and gardens, a butterfly can have a widely varied habitat.
Some butterflies use grasses for shelter in the winter months. Although most species require temperatures between seventy and eighty-five Fahrenheit to fly and eat, they can survive surprisingly cold conditions.
Additionally, some butterflies need the grasses to lay their eggs so the next generation can live.
Grasses are part of the many suggested species for butterfly gardens. A good variety with flowers and the right tall grasses give butterflies a beautiful home.
More importantly, it gives them a place to hide and sleep safely when predators are around.
Why Do Butterflies Eat Grass
Butterflies only eat grasses in their caterpillar stage of life. Although caterpillars or larvae begin life very small, hatching from incredibly tiny eggs, they grow very quickly.
Most species of caterpillar reach up to two thousand times their birth size in one to two weeks.
To support that much growth, caterpillars are voracious eaters. The grass is bountiful and fast-growing, so it can be an excellent food source.
Sadly, only some species can utilize this vast renewable resource.
Grass offers shelter for butterfly eggs and huge quantities of food when they emerge. Though not every butterfly species lays its eggs on grasses, those which do require it when they hatch.
Each type of butterfly gives it’s young the best chance for survival by placing their eggs on the plant newly emerged larvae need most.
How Often Will Butterflies Eat Grass
In the caterpillar stage, a soon-to-be butterfly will eat grass all day. The story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar isn’t very far from the truth.
Although cake and fruits mentioned in this classic children’s story aren’t a good meal, these small insects spend all their time eating.
Caterpillars literally sleep and eat until they are ready to spin their chrysalis and transform into their winged adult form.
A newly hatched caterpillar can survive about 24 hours without eating safely in an emergency. However, after the first day or so, they will weaken and die very quickly if there’s no grass or other suitable leafy food.
Do Butterflies Eat Grass Seed
Some caterpillars can eat grains and seeds, such as grass seeds before they become butterflies. Usually, baby butterflies prefer leaves to the harder seed.
Different species typically have favorite plants, such as monarch caterpillars who eat milkweed exclusively or swallowtails prefer rue.
A caterpillar’s body is basically just a tube for processing food. The spinnerets that make and disburse silk and any defenses like color patterns, false eyes, and even toxic hairs called setae are only there to allow the caterpillar to eat.
Its feet help the young butterfly move along grasses and leaves to continue to consume more vegetation when the piece it is on is gone.
Luckily, most caterpillars are capable of eating several variations of their usual host plant. Most plants within the same family as the preferred host plant can sustain these young, aspiring butterflies.
If you are raising caterpillars who eat grass, for example, other similar grasses from that family make a suitable substitute if you run out of the original.
Do All Butterflies Eat Grass
Not all butterflies eat grass. Species that prefer other plants almost exclusively eat those plants even when they could survive on grasses. Additionally, not all caterpillars are herbivores.
Herbivorous caterpillars typically eat their own molted skins. This prevents leaving them around for predators to sniff out and provides a little additional nutrition.
A caterpillar usually molts about five times before reaching its full growth. By doing this, they can grow larger much faster.
A few very rare species of caterpillar are carnivorous. As BBC Earth points out, some butterflies lay their eggs on or near anthills.
In these cases, the newly emerged caterpillars eat ants and ant larvae. The eggs are cleverly disguised using pheromones that make them effectively invisible to their future prey.
Do Monarch Butterflies Eat Grass
Monarch butterflies never eat grass. These incredible travelers will eventually fly three thousand miles south to Mexico to lay their eggs on milkweed plants.
The monarch caterpillars eat exclusively from the milkweed family. Doing this ensures that they are toxic both in their early stage and later in life after emerging from the chrysalis to become the far flying beauties that are so easy to recognize.
Do Cabbage White Butterflies Eat Grass
Cabbage white butterflies are the most populous species in North America. The name cabbage white is a hint about what they eat.
The adults sup from flowers like all butterflies, but larvae or cabbage white caterpillars eat cabbage, brussels sprouts, and other brassica family members.
Since these plants grow abundantly all over the US, it’s easy to see why this species is so prolific. Humans cultivate brassica like broccoli and cabbage for food.
Thanks to our meddling, many butterflies have a hard time finding food, but it is a benefit for this particular species which thrive thanks in part to our food choices.
Unfortunately, many farmers use pesticides that can harm cabbage white caterpillars, which endangers these useful and widespread butterflies.
Having an insect eat all your crops isn’t good, but we are working to find a good balance so that butterflies can continue to do their job as pollinators as well.
The push for organic and chemical-free foods means there is still plenty for these hungry young butterflies to eat.
Helpful Tips To Know About Butterflies Eating Grass
Butterflies in their adult form have no chewing parts in their mouths. Instead, their straw-like proboscis does all the work of sipping nectar, but as larvae, numerous butterflies chow down on grasses.
Here are more helpful tips to know about butterflies eating grass.
- Lawn caterpillars hide during the day and come out to eat grasses during the night or when the weather is overcast.
- You cannot feed grass to ‘just any’ caterpillar. Most butterfly species can only lay their eggs on a few select plants from one group. These are called host plants.
- Not all caterpillars that eat grass will become butterflies. Some caterpillars turn into moths instead. It can be difficult to identify the species unless you are a lepidopterist (butterfly specialist).
Adult butterflies exclusively drink nectar and fruit juice. However, in their larval form, caterpillars may eat grass.
However, it is important to note that each species of butterfly has a particularly preferred host plant. The caterpillars of that species must eat from that plant or a close family member to survive, unless they happen to be carnivorous, in which case they will only eat ants.
If you plan to raise butterflies or have a butterfly garden, it is vital to know what plants or grasses they can consume at each stage of their life.